Plane & Pilot
Monday, January 26, 2009

Liberty XL2 Vanguard: The Soul Of A Tiger

The FADEC-equipped two-seater makes training and cruising fun again

libertyOn The Ground
I sauntered out to the ramp at Santa Monica Airport to meet Liberty demo pilot Paul Everitt; he’s also a business development manager for Liberty who has more than 700 hours in the XL2. His easy smile and South African accent immediately put me at ease. He resembled what I imagine an international secret agent would look like; indeed, standing next to the sparkling XL2 on the empty ramp, the dapper Everitt looked like he was waiting for some exotic beauty to bring him a martini.

Climbing into the XL2 is different than it is with most airplanes. The airplane’s T-37-like stance puts the wing fairly high, and you start the routine from the front. Like an Arthur Murray dance instructor, Everitt rattled off the proper steps: “Rear end on the wing leading edge. Hop up and push back. Swing both legs into the cockpit and lower yourself in.”

Once settled in, it struck me that the XL2 is huge inside: The cockpit is a full 48 inches wide. That’s wider than the big-boned Cessnas and Bonanzas, and just one inch narrower than a Cherokee Six. I felt decadent. The gull-wing doors gape open and add to the roominess. The seats don’t move, but the rudder pedals adjust fore and aft to accommodate a wide assortment of body types. The memory foam in the gray leather seats made them feel supportive but soft—like a British sports car.

Starting the Vanguard was simple; the only nontypical checklist item was checking the dual FADEC switches. The Continental stuttered to life and settled into a smooth idle. I quickly became aware of the incredible 270-degree visibility around me; it felt almost like an open cockpit. Taxi control was astonishing as Everitt pulled straight into a tight spot between two airplanes and then turned the XL2 a full 180 degrees on its castering nosewheel.

My Personal Fighter Jet
Cleared for takeoff, I advanced the center console throttle to its max position, labeled “WOT” (wide open throttle). This tells the FADEC that I need everything it can give me for takeoff. The XL2 tracked beautifully and lifted off with no effort. In truth, my takeoff was a bit ham-fisted, since I hadn’t gotten used to the incredible handling that awaited me.

For those who haven’t flown an airplane with a stick, it’s completely natural. In the Liberty, the stick is mounted close to your body, and the feel is intuitive and sure. With the stick in my hand, and the cockpit visibility surrounding me, the XL2 felt like a miniature fighter jet. I had time to notice the generous baggage area behind me. Liberty says the XL2 can carry 100 pounds back there, from tents to suitcases.

We climbed out at 80 knots, which gave us a sprightly 700 fpm rate on the cool afternoon. We leveled off at 2,000 feet to enjoy the view of the bazillion-dollar celebrity beach homes in Malibu, staying clear of the Los Angeles Class Bravo. And then it was time for some maneuvers.

The handling was pure fun: crisp and featherlight. It reminded me of the Bellanca Super Vikings of old, with their slippery and instantaneous controllability. The XL2’s direct-linkage controls felt light and yielded nimble pitch and roll response.

Stalls were docile, with control mushiness and a slight buffet preceding the break. The nose went over gently at about 44 knots and recovered with nothing more than neutral elevator. Slow flight was easy as we hung on the prop at 50 knots, above the tanned celebrities in Malibu Colony. This airplane was the definition of “easy to fly”: docile, ultra-controllable and forgiving. One of the few complaints I have is the position of the trim on the center console. To me, it was awkward to use and would be nicer on the stick.

This Vanguard XL2 sported the Aspen Evolution PFD, which is bright and clear and gives almost all the information of larger PFDs in a smaller footprint. I found the combination of the Aspen and the steam gauges safer to use. For example, I didn’t “chase the tape” for airspeed and altitude, and the PFD didn’t beg my eyes down to the panel. I used the Aspen for basic attitude and heading information and the steam gauges for everything else. It’s a winning combination.

In the pattern, the XL2 Vanguard held no surprises. Approach speed was 65 knots, and my touchdown seemed flat compared to my experience in most two-seaters. (Everitt explained that the aircraft can be landed in any typical landing configuration, from “flatish” up to a full-stall landing.) Though I landed it a bit…let’s call it less than perfect, it wouldn’t take much to land this airplane well, consistently. The toe brakes were effective and solid. I wanted to go again.

Labels: Piston Singles


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